Which was first, the chicken or the egg?
Perhaps it's a fruitless discussion, but a similar query should be posed about this past Saturday's events in the Horseshoe.
Looking at the box score, the Buckeyes had the ball on offense only 19 minutes, lost the turnover margin by four, had two critical special teams mishaps, were out-gained in first downs by a margin of 27-13, and didn't manage to snap the ball for an offensive play on the Michigan State side of the field until only 2:49 remained on the clock.
Sure, Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn both scored on long touchdown passes, but is that because they beat their man, or because Michigan State defensive backs blew the tackles? Yes Ohio State went in at halftime down only 4 points, but shouldn't that have been a margin of 10 if the Spartans and their coaches are even remotely on the same page?
Spartan coach John L. Smith, nearly apoplectic walking off the field at halftime, didn't credit Ohio State for a great play; he instead unleashed a scathing rebuke of his own staff. Maybe that didn't sit well with fans, but the fact remains that it was only a Michigan State mistake that put the Buckeyes back in the game. They tried a field goal attempt without a wing to block the oncoming rush, and Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel said he was actually hoping the Spartans would snap the football and make the attempt; the block was all but a foregone conclusion.
Said Smith after the loss, "My guys played their hearts out today. The loss is placed on the coaches for this game and I take full responsibility."
His starting quarterback Stanton disagreed pointing out, "He (Smith)
said that (it was his fault), but there is a certain time players have to own up
and take responsibility. Unless they had a perfect game, then you can point
fingers. I know I wasn't perfect so I have to take responsibility."
I beg your pardon?
This is an offense that marched up and down the field on Ohio State, putting itself in position for 30 points were it not for two botched field goal attempts. The Buckeye defense, whose admitted goal is to keep teams at 14 points or less, still surrendered 24 on Saturday along with two touchdown drives of 80 yards or more. They found larger holes in the Buckeye defense than are in the ozone layer over Antarctica, and routinely gashed them for chunks of yardage on third and long.
Anthony Schlegel defended his unit saying, "When they have the ball for 42 minutes they are going to get some yards. They're a great offense, and he's a great quarterback. The 12 sacks were good, and really late in the game we affected him, and that's what you want to do. When the game is on the line you want to affect the quarterback and getting that pressure on him in the second half really…took him out of the game."
But this begs a question; if this was truly a ‘win' for the Buckeyes then why did most of the team grade a losing performance?
"We had, I think, five or six guys on each side of the ball that graded winning performance," said Tressel at his weekly press conference. "We would like to have more than that and need to have more than that."
He recognized, "We've got to make some dramatic changes in taking care of the football. I can't remember a time where we lost the turnover margin four to zero and had as many mistakes in our special units and then came up with a win. I guess the only thing that can overcome some of those facts and realities is if you just play with great passion through the course of the game and find a way to win. And I think that's perhaps what we did."
In other words, this team met pretty much none of its goals. Its starting quarterback graded a losing performance. The special teams' only shining moments came via the legs of Josh Huston and A.J. Trapasso; return yardage was pedestrian at best and that happened only when the OSU returner fielded the ball instead of fumbling. The defense failed to force a single turnover despite 12 sacks and allowed the Spartan offense to snap the football 87 times.
Then again (to play the Devil's advocate), Schlegel pointed out "the guy didn't throw bad passes. How are you going to get picks like that? I thought we had a turnover on the one but somehow that didn't get called. What can you do besides turnovers? You can get three and outs and sacks and get off the field and get the offense the ball. There have been games where we have had nine three and outs. That's our goal; three turnovers or eight three and outs. When you can accomplish that it's just as good."
Which begs the question – if the defense failed to force a single turnover and had too few instances where Michigan State's offense was forced off the field; how in the world did they pull out a victory?
"It's tough," mused Schlegel. "But the reason we won is we played our tails off the whole game. Everybody was fighting. I know defensively even in the first half there were guys who were exhausted. We had 51 plays in the first half, and that's more than some of the (complete) games we have been in. Yet in the crunch time Nate (Salley) blocked the kick, Ashton (Youboty) took it to the house, and that changed the game. That's just the determination that guys have on this team to fight for each other. That's what it's all about, and that's why we won."
So what is the whole of the matter?
According to Tressel, "Well, you know, we won in points and we had 35 and they had (28), and that counts a lot. They got down there close a few times and got turned away whether it was by a special teams play or by a defensive play. Offensively, I'm not sure I've been in a game where we've had so few plays yet 9.4 yards per play. So we came up with some plays that we needed, you know, to score those points, and turn field position around, and that type of thing. And so, you know, we won the game. I'm not apologizing for our performance. Now, we've got to get better in a lot of areas. But we did the things that were most important to win the game. And that was score more points, and played every snap. And that's what it takes."
Schlegel concurred; "We look at it as we won. I don't care what other people think about it. I know that we got a ‘W'. The reason we got that W is because we played hard. We played our tails off the whole game."
Indeed they did…but the question still remains – is that because Michigan State missed opportunities or Ohio State capitalized on theirs?
Perhaps the best answer is that this was simply a poorly played game by both squads. Seemingly each great play or opportunity came as a result of poor execution by the opponent.
Concluded Smith, "I congratulate Ohio State. They are a tremendous football team. They won the game. It was a hard football game. Offensively the kids (Ohio State) have special talents and (defensively) we had trouble blocking them."
Ohio State did win the game, and they probably are the better team. Line them up and let them play 10 times and the Buckeyes probably win at least eight. Toss out the unforced turnovers and the Buckeyes might win by 20. They never quit even when most of their fans had already destroyed their remote controls or wished they hadn't spent money on tickets.
The fact remains that the Scarlet and Gray won by only 11 and trailed with just minutes remaining. It's still hard to tell whether Ohio State won or Michigan State lost.
So, tell me again…which came first, the chicken or the egg?